DUP MP Paisley's 'poach tourists from Dublin' call sparks backlash
Local tourism bosses have been challenged to "aggressively" target visitors in Dublin and tell them: "You're in the wrong part of the island."
DUP MP Ian Paisley delivered the hard-hitting message to officials yesterday. Addressing delegates from Visit Belfast and Visit Derry at Westminster, Mr Paisley suggested that Dublin was unfairly marketing on this side of border.
He asked if Northern Ireland should "put it right back in their face".
"It's been put to me that 70% of Dublin Airport's marketing budget on the island is spent in Northern Ireland to attract people to go south," Mr Paisley said.
"I'm just wondering, should we have an aggressive marketing strategy that says whenever you get off a plane in Dublin, 'Visit Derry, visit Belfast, visit the Causeway, why aren't you going north?' and put it right back in their face?
"The song most Americans sing is Danny Boy - that's nothing to do with the Republic of Ireland, it's to do with Northern Ireland.
"Why don't we have an aggressive strategy that tells every single Irish-American in Dublin, 'You're in the wrong part of the island, you need to be up north.'"
His comments were made at a meeting of the NI Affairs Committee, which has started an inquiry into tourism in Northern Ireland, and have sparked debate.
Last night SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone, a former chair of Stormont's enterprise, trade and investment committee, said Mr Paisley was in no position to lecture on tourism.
He referred to the MP's suspension from the House of Commons for 30 days last year for "serious misconduct" after failing to declare family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013. In December Mr Paisley also faced questions over a luxury trip to the Maldives.
Mr McGlone added: "It's nice to see Mr Paisley's recent tourist trips to Sri Lanka and the Maldives have helped him become such an expert in tourism.
"But perhaps he could have been warned that such ill-advised comments would only draw more attention to those overseas trips.
"The tourism industry will always work hard to attract as many visitors to Ireland both north and south, and we welcome all to these shores.
"I wonder how many times Mr Paisley has flown out from Dublin Airport since he's so aware of the lack of marketing for Northern Ireland?
"Most visitors from overseas have no choice but to land in Dublin if they want to visit. Telling them they've landed in the 'wrong place' is not the message we should be putting out."
Sinn Fein said that "clearly Ian Paisley has a great deal of experience of tourism and overseas travel... but he obviously knows nothing about marketing".
"Tourists from across the world see Ireland as a single entity and it is rightly marketed as such," it said.
"His comments also show a lack of understanding of the north-south bodies which his party colleagues sat on which have responsibility for all-Ireland tourism marketing."
Hospitality NI chief Colin Neill said that something has to be done to ensure Northern Ireland maximises its tourist potential.
However, he admitted Mr Paisley's words was "not the sort of language I would have used".
"The Republic of Ireland is our second biggest market behind Great Britain," he said.
"Around 70% of air traffic of visitors to Northern Ireland comes through Dublin Airport, so yes, we need to do everything we can to make sure they turn left as well as right after they arrive.
"But there's a bigger issue and that concerns infrastructure in Northern Ireland.
"We have to do more to attract international flights to Belfast airports. Ways of bringing visitors directly into Northern Ireland have to be addressed."
He called for reductions in air passenger duty and the development of new routes as tourism here "could be missing out on as much as £1bn a year".
"It's easier to keep people in Northern Ireland if they arrive at one of our airports in the first place," he said.
Gerry Lennon from Visit Belfast and Odhran Dunne from Visit Derry appeared before MPs at yesterday's Westminster committee hearing. Both agreed that more marketing was essential, but warned that resources were tight and more public sector funding is needed.
Tourism NI, the organisation which handles marketing in the Republic, said it was not in a position to comment as it would be contributing to the committee at a later date.
Tourism Ireland is the body responsible for marketing overseas.